The Turning of the Tides

Sarah McIntire '07, English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

Gondor was at her blackest hour. Osgiliath had been captured by the forces of Mordor, and now Minas Tirith was surrounded by an army of Orcs, Nazgul, and Harad from the South. Still the Rohirrim did not come to Gondor's aid. In the night, the dark forces from Barad-dur broke against the walls of the White City, while the Lord of the Nazgul readied his most powerful weapon for the attack on the Gate of Minas Tirith. Grond they called it, a huge battering ram with a horrible head of steel, a weapon that would seal the fate of Gondor forever. The gates to the city were strong, but could not stand against the evil forces of Mordor for long.

Then the Black Captain rose in his stirrups and cried aloud in a dreadful voice, speaking in some forgotten tongue words of power and terror to rend both heart and stone.

Thrice he cried. Thrice the great ram boomed. And suddenly upon the last stroke the Gate of Gondor broke. As if stricken by some blasting spell it burst asunder: there was a flash of searing lightning, and the doors tumbled in riven fragments to the ground.

In rode the Lord of the Nazgul. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgul, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.

All save one. There waiting, silent and still in the space before the Gate, sat Gandalf upon Shadowfax: Shadowfax who alone among the free horses of the earth endured the terror, unmoving, steadfast as a graven image in Rath Dinen.

"You cannot enter here," said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. "Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!" . . .

Gandalf did not move. And in that moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn. [810-811]

Gandalf, as acting leader of the forces of Gondor, is a stark contrast to the fiery evil of the Nazgul Lord. This is clearly a turning point in The Return of the King: the tides are turning, and for the first time, the onslaught from Mordor is halted, however briefly, and the light of morning returns once more to the walls of the White City.


1. Is there a parallel between Gandalf's confrontation between the Lord of the Nazgul and his confrontation with the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring? If so, what is the point of it? (See page 322)

2. Why does Tolkien repeat the phrase "In rode the Lord of the Nazgul" in the third paragraph?

3. Why does Tolkien use the phrase "All but one" when describing how all fled before the Lord of the Nazgul when clearly both Gandalf and Shadowfax remained?

4. What does the "abyss" and the "nothingness" that Gandalf speaks of represent? Do the words "prepared" and "awaits" imply that Gandalf knows the future, or does he just use those words as a means of intimidation?

5. Why does Tolkien set up this parallel to the Bible -- the Lord of the Nazgul crying three times before the cock crows? Is it intentional?


Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.

Victorian Web Overview J. R. R. Tolkien Victorian courses

Last modified 25 February 2004